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    Risky sour

    The Sundance hit "Dare," despite its boundary-pushing title, fails to take a single chance in its tale of sexual non-adventures.


    Next time Alan Cumming is in your movie, listen to what he says.

    Our heroine, Alexa, is a pretty but bland high school actress currently sucking the life out of Blanche Dubois. Luckily, acting guru Grant Matson (hey, it's Alan Cumming!) has parachuted into this movie for one scene to light a fire under Alexa. She needs to take a risk with her life and her emotions before she's ready to act, he says.

    Directed by: Adam Salky.
    Written by: David Brind.
    Cast: Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford, Ashley Springer, Ana Gasteyer, Rooney Mara, Sandra Bernhard, Alan Cumming, Cady Huffman, Brianne Berkson, Chris Riggi.
    Cinematography: Michael Fimognari.
    Edited by: John F. Lyons.

    Related links: Official site
    "Do something you're afraid of — and FEEL!" he urges her. "And after that, if you still want to be an actress, God bless you. Class dismissed."

    Thus inspired, Alexa transfers to an inner-city school, where she infiltrates a drug gang and has acrobatic sex with an aspiring rapper named Psycho-K before she discovers that he's really ...

    Just kidding! Ha ha ha! Of course that isn't what she does. It is a measure of this movie that Alexa's big risk is drinking the parents' expensive champagne and making sweet love to her hunky co-star, Johnny. Way to color outside the lines, there, Alexa!

    So intimately acquainted, the two set the stage on fire as Blanche and Stanley. Problem solved! And is that the end of the story? No, because there's a new complication — a third member of our cast, Alexa's dorky best friend Ben, would also like to make sweet love to Johnny. It seems, if anybody in this movie is going to take a risk, it is going to be Ben.

    So what do we have now? Three youngsters who have slept with each other approximately once and aren't sure what to do next. So instead of figure it out, they tread water for a long time until the end of the movie can come and wrap things up. Finally, somebody floats the idea of these three near-virgins living as a threesome, which nobody really accepts or rejects.

    Meanwhile, in the audience, nobody really cares. The movie has already made two fatal mistakes from which it has not recovered.

    Mistake one: None of these supposedly risqué developments has provoked almost any visible emotion from our threesome. How are they feeling? Happy? Obsessed? Jealous? Guilty? Psychotic? Who knows? There are no fights. There is no pillow talk. There are, at most, a few looks. Alexa once gets a look of momentary surprise on her face that says, "OMG!" Ben frequently gets a look on his face that says, "I desperately want somebody to have sex with me but I don't want you to think I'm a psychopath so I'm leering in a way that I'm pretty sure is highly seductive. Is it working?" (FYI, it isn't.)

    The only person who says anything is Johnny, who has a therapy session with Sandra Bernhard. Unlike anything else in the movie, it has tension and energy. It's a pity all three characters didn't have celebrity therapists.  

    The only person who says anything outright in words — which is pretty much the only way people's inner thoughts become available in a movie — is Johnny, who has a therapy session with another one-scene celebrity, Sandra Bernhard. Unlike anything else in the movie, it has tension and energy. It's a pity all three characters didn't have celebrity therapists.

    At least then they would get some emotions out in the open. Without that, what we have is that worst kind of "teen" drama (starring clean-looking but generic 25-year-old Hollywood actors) — the kind in which upper-middle-class suburban teenagers drink champagne in their parents' abandoned luxury homes, drive SUVs a foot taller than themselves, and try, not very hard, to locate a plot of some kind. Alan Cumming was right — it's a struggle for characters like these to have an authentic feeling or do anything remotely interesting in their lives. Lesson: Do not even try to make this movie if you are not Whit Stillman.

    Mistake two: The movie is NOT SEXY. Ever. Even during the sex parts, there is no sex. There is the faintest suggestion that some people pressed close together with their clothes on could theoretically have been having sex if it weren't a movie. I'm sorry, rarely would I "demand" that somebody get naked in a movie, but when the whole idea behind your movie is pushing sexual boundaries, then yeah, you have to be naked. And it has to be hot. You have to go for it.

      "Dare" is rated "R" for "Really?" With a name like "Dare," you would think the filmmakers would be ashamed at how little they dared to do.
    "Dare" is rated "R" for "Really?" It's the "PG"-est movie ever to get that rating — almost certainly because the ratings board got a little tiny bit of gay on them when they watched it. With a name like "Dare," you would think the filmmakers would be ashamed at how little they dared to do. There's a foursome scene in which one person passes out on a couch, making it a threesome scene, in which the people lie down with their clothes on and do nothing. There's an allusion to polyamory which is allowed to fizzle out, without even a discussion much less a trial run.

    Even the mildest gesture is more than these characters "dare." After she's challenged by her theater guru, Alexa's first symbolic act of defiance is to draw a blood-red gash in fingernail polish across her throat. What does it mean? Is she symbolicaly slitting her own throat? Is she going to shock her fellow rich kids by gothing out at her school? No, she dares not. She just wears a turtleneck so nobody will see.

    It's hard to know why this movie, inexplicably nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, was made and what the filmmakers thought they had to say. If only somebody could have offered them some advice. Oh, wait, somebody did. Once again, it was their own character, played by Alan Cumming. Do something you're afraid of. And after that, if you still want to make this movie, God bless you.

    NOVEMBER 13, 2009

    Reader comments on Dare:

  • Hahaha   from , Jul 24, 2011
  • Dare Me   from Chuck, Dec 8, 2013
  • Dare me continued   from Chuck, Dec 8, 2013

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